The Curse of Wealth

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The “curse of wealth” is attention getting; however, it describes an issue that is starting to impact agriculture, particularly in the islands of prosperity fueled by the nine-year super cycle that has been building tremendous appreciation of assets and retained profits on farm balance sheets.

Prosperity, if not handled properly, can lead to tremendous financial stress and human-related stress in personal and family lives. For example, many major lottery winners either file bankruptcy or experience financial issues within five years after winning. Many professional athletes who earn large salaries are unable to control spending while living “the good life” and hit rock bottom before retirement. People inheriting major wealth, considered to be at least $100,000, tend to spend the windfall and have nothing tangible to show for it within 17 months.

I predict that many producers who have experienced the economic boom will face emotional, financial and family stress over the next decade due to their recent prosperity. Children and grandchildren who inherit this paper and earned wealth without the training or motivation to manage wealth will be targets of these issues. In some cases, siblings, on the farm and moving away from the farm, will debate and argue over the spoils of the allocation of wealth. This will create very uncomfortable holidays for many farm families. This scenario will be the opposite of what happened in the 1980s when financial crisis hit many of the same families, resulting in breakups. In some cases the adversity resulted in family members pulling together and being better for it because they were not equating their net worth to their self-worth.

While this article paints a “dark side” slant to the prosperity in agriculture, it is designed to be a wake-up call. Financial management and planning, along with transition planning, will be keys for both financial and human relations success. Being proactive will be critical to plan out your journey of managing and dispersing prosperity.

Courses, book, and lectures by Dave Ramsey, Susie Orman, Clark Howard and other financial experts will be crucial in the times to come. A good quick read by Jim Stovall, The Ultimate Gift, should be a required reading for many of you and your family members. It helps to bring light to the potential dark side of agricultural prosperity.

 

Editor’s note: Dave Kohl, Corn & Soybean Digest trends editor, is an ag economist specializing in business management and ag finance. He recently retired from Virginia Tech, but continues to conduct applied research and travel extensively in the U.S. and Canada, teaching ag and banking seminars and speaking to producer and agribusiness groups. He can be reached at sullylab@vt.edu.

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